NEW YORK - Since Sep. 17, hundreds of demonstrators in the Occupy Wall Street movement have transformed the quiet Zucotti Park in lower Manhattan from a place where Wall Street traders once relaxed during lunch breaks into a demonstration camp.
Participants from all over the United States have joined the movement that criticises the injustices of the capitalist system and calls for greater democracy and individual freedom.
"This is a democratic awakening," Cornel West, a prominent activist and Princeton professor, told journalists prior to speaking before nearly 2,000 protestors at Occupy Wall Street's General Assembly on Tuesday.
The protest was first called up in July 2011 by Adbusters and Anonymous, two groups of social activists, artists and hackers.
"We are trying to build the community and the culture we would like to see in the world," explained Isham Christie, film theory and philosophy student at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Centre and an organiser of the protest, calling it a "fight for a (fairer) world".
"People who feel alienated from the consumer society or don't have jobs or are homeless… can come here and be supported," Christie told IPS. "We are trying to build an alternative institution to what we see as the exploitative, oppressive capitalistic society that we live in."
"If only the war on poverty was a real war. Then we would actually be putting money in it," read the sign West held during Tuesday's demonstration.
"I'd really like the whole societal structure to change, the whole ideas of capitalism and the distribution of wealth. I'd really like to see that turn around to something where it honours more the actual people who are involved in the society," Turkish-born Gaye Ajoy told IPS.
Ajoy, who moved from Florida to New York City just a few days ago, added, "I oppose the one percent of people who own the whole country and don't (care) about anybody else."
Ajoy believes that the protestors' views are similar to the ideas of the counterculture movement in the 1960's and '70's and activists like Martin Luther King Jr. or Gloria Steinem.
West noted the diversity of demonstrators, saying, "It is sublime to see all the different colours, all the different genders, all the different sexual orientations and all the different cultures all together here at Liberty Plaza."
A popular movement
In comparison to the elitist structure of the banks and companies it opposes, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement does not have a hierarchy. Everyone can speak up or participate in discussions, and so everyone can take responsibility – or refuse it.
Brian Phillips, a 25-year-old Google consultant and field journalist from Washington state, arrived in New York only a few days ago and has already become the communications director for the protest. Like many others, he gave up his former civil life to participate in the movement.
"I was a community director in my home state, managing a four million dollar complex," Phillips told IPS. "I quit my job, I… hitchhiked all the way over here and I am here to stay and help these guys."
Communication, both internal and external, is one of the key elements of the protests. By using websites, webcasts, tweets and live streams, Occupy Wall Street stays in touch with other movements, both national and global.
"It's very, very, very important that we are connected to the internet," Phillips explained. "We need the world to see what we are doing and… to know what we are doing."
"Because we are broadcasting from Occupy Wall Street, which is (the) headquarters of the revolution, we have ten other cities around the United States starting to be occupied. We have Boston, Chicago, LA, Austin, Charlotte. We have a bunch of places starting up. It's going big – and it's increasing by size faster than we've expected."
Occupy Wall Street is also garnering more attention from both local and global media, thanks to the growing outrage and support from well-known figures including MIT professor Noam Chomsky and rapper Immortal Technique.
The fact that New York City police arrested about 80 people during an unapproved march to the United Nations on Saturday also helped attract media attention.
Still, Phillips refused to endorse their coverage. "The actual media companies – NBC, MSN, all those companies – they're not going to report on us and they're not going to tell the truth," the computer scientist told IPS. "They are not going to tell the world what is really going on."
Someone who wanted to know what was really going on in Zucotti Park was Bettina Schröder from Cologne, Germany, who is currently visiting New York and read about the protest on the internet.
"We knew that there was something going on, but we kind of ran into it," Schröder said. "We thought it was smaller, but it is nice to see that there are quite some people. Hopefully it will be more and more. It is just the beginning."
Martin Peutsch, Schröder's boyfriend, was especially satisfied with the protest's location. "Wall Street is the right spot, I think. A lot of Americans have suffered a great deal because of the banking crisis," Peutsch said to IPS.
"I think it is time to mobilize resistance and to show the banks in America that they cannot do whatever they want and then go on as if nothing has happened."
Schröder also saw a global aspect to the protest. "There are so many other movements in so many different countries. People have to speak up their minds – and I think it's really, really good," she said.
West, who compared the "U.S. Autumn" to the so-called Arab Spring, believed in the longevity of Occupy Wall Street, as long as protesters stay strong.
"I think we gotta keep the momentum going, because it's impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one or two demands," West stated.
"In the end, we are really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution - a transfer of power from oligarchs to everyday people of all colours. And that is a step-by-step process, it's a democratic process, it's a non-violent process – but it is a revolution."